The necessary separation of the president and his Justice Department

The Post’s Daily 202 points out that all this underlines how clueless Trump always was and still is about what exactly his job entails.

The same president who allegedly asked James Comey to drop the FBI’s probe into Michael Flynn – potentially imperiling his grip on power – has also said “nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” volunteered that he only learned containing North Korea is “not so easy” when the Chinese president tutored him on the region’s history and expressed surprise that government cannot be run like a business.

He seems to have thought it was like being a pretend boss on tv – you just give orders and say “you’re fired” when you feel like it. The end.

— Only an amateur would be surprised that Comey took notes after a meeting like this and that they would emerge if he got fired while the investigation in question was still ongoing. How the last several days have played out was entirely foreseeable for anyone who has even a basic grip of how Washington works and how Comey operates.

Dud theory of mind yet again. Trump saw it all from his point of view and didn’t even pause to remember that Comey has one too and it won’t consist solely of “must do whatever Trump wants because Trump awesome.”

Why did the president ask Pence and Sessions to leave the room when he talked to Comey? “This is the kind of conversation that rational, experienced presidents know not to have,” Ruth Marcus writes. “It is the kind of conversation that a White House counsel should make sparklingly, crystal clear to a president that he is not to engage in, not even close. It is the kind of conversation that seems completely in character for Trump, who, over the course of the campaign and now in office, has betrayed no — zero — understanding of the necessary separation of the president and his Justice Department when it comes to making independent judgments about political matters and political opponents.”

It’s not clear to me either how explicit that necessary separation is. News talkers keep pointing out that the president can fire anyone in the DOJ, the DOJ works for the president, the DOJ is part of the executive branch, yadda yadda. The message seems to be that Trump can do whatever he likes when it comes to the Justice Department and no one can stop him. They don’t talk nearly as much about this necessary separation.

Clearly though there should be such a separation when it comes to questions about the president’s own actions, because the president should be accountable and subject to the law. It’s pretty appalling seeing all these “actually, legally speaking, he has the right to ______” – to fire anyone in the DOJ, to declassify information on the spur of the moment while chatting with Russians with only Russian state media present, to fire prosecutors, to…what? Apparently asking the FBI director to let something go is a step too far, but it’s not clear to me where that bright line is.

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